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“None” – Singular or Plural?

The indefinite pronoun none requires some separate discussion. A myth has emerged that none always requires a singular verb.

Not true.

Singular or Plural

The word none can take the singular or the plural. In the words of New Fowler:

It is a mistake to suppose that the pronoun [none] is singular only and must at all costs be followed by singular verbs or pronouns . . . . At all times since the reign of King Alfred the choice of plural or singular . . . has been governed by the surrounding words or by the notional sense. New Fowler, p. 526.

You’ll produce the more emphatic statement by using the singular. Look at this example of the singular by T.S. Eliot, which appears in New Fowler:

 . . . a fear which we cannot know, which we cannot face, which none understands.

The use of the singular none in that statement says not a bloody one understands this terrible fear. But compare this example of the plural from The New Yorker, which also appears in New Fowler:

She also says that though she had many affairs, none were lighthearted romances.

In this statement, the writer wants a plural-like generality, stated succinctly by the plural word romances. Consider the ineffectiveness of the singular:

She also says that though she had many affairs, none was a lighthearted romance.

Requires a Plural

Also, sometimes none logically requires a plural:

None of the women meet after work.

It takes at least two to meet, now doesn’t it?

 

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